The bipartisan jobs package passed last October contained a number of programs aimed at expanding manufacturing in Connecticut. But also buried in the law was a provision to help the state’s farmers grow their businesses. On Friday, a Glastonbury farm was awarded the program’s first grant.
According to Agriculture Commissioner Steven Reviczky, 46 farms have applied for up to $20,000 in grants under the Farmland Restoration program. The program sets aside $5 million for farmers looking to restore parts of their property and to bring the farmland into higher production.
Joe and Sandy Dondero received the state’s first grant under the program Friday to help them restore property they recently purchased in Glastonbury.
“This is a really great opportunity for us. We’d been looking for years for a place to expand. We have four little kids coming up. Hopefully they’re all going to follow in our footsteps someday,” Mr. Dondero said.
Mr. Dondero said the $20,000 grant was especially helpful given that they had to pay developer prices for the property they bought in Glastonbury. The 11.5 acres of land is now home to crops of blueberries, peaches, and a host of other fruits and vegetables.
Sandy Dondero said the other farm the couple owns in Glastonbury has been in the family for over 100 years.
“My childrens’ great grandpa is just so proud,” she said. “It’s a lot of hard work, it’s seven days a week, but it’s something that you can be proud of.”
Reviczky said that Dondero Orchards is one of the best examples of what the program is all about, adding that Dondero Orchards “has been ahead of the curve for quite some time growing quality products, fresh, local, healthy foods.”
Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester, sent a letter to the Donderos in February urging them to contact his office for information about the program. He said his office mailed about 100 similar letters. Now, four of the 30 planned grants are going to farms in his district, he said.
Cassano said he was a little surprised when he first looked at the jobs bill and saw a provision to help farmers.
“I thought it was also a great idea. We don’t think of farmers,” Cassano said. “. . . Just having it in the bill raised the flag for some of us. We need to do that. We need to look at all small businesses.”
Reviczky said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy requested the program be put together to bring more of the state’s farmland into active production with the goal of producing more Connecticut-grown food.
The agriculture industry accounts for about $3.5 billion in economic activity in Connecticut, Reviczky said, adding that the number of small farms in the state has been growing in recent years as farmers markets have become more popular. According to New England Agricultural Statistics, Connecticut had 4,200 farms in 2001. That number rose to 4,900 by 2010.
“With the increased interest in locally grown food, it’s been on the up-tick,” Reviczky said.